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Thursday, December 29, 2016

950th anniversary of Hastings

This year was 950th anniversary of Battle of Hastings.  Ugh! Reading Brits! They refer to places like East Anglica which you can’t find on a current map.  It’s Suffolk—one of 7 tribes of Angles and Saxons in the 500s-800s.  Then they wax on about 15 different people that caused the invasion. After some digging, here’s my simple-American understanding.

            One of the troubles of Medieval monarchs is that they often didn’t live long enough or have fertility enough to sire heirs. Somebody was always dying of gangrene from a blister or a cut. Vikings, about 1000AD began trading instead of raiding and became rich and powerful. They forced their way into northeastern England—York and Northumbria along the N. Sea.  Aethelred the Unready was the Anglo-Saxon British king when Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Canute conquered the kingdom.  But Forkbeard died a year later and young Canute fled temporarily.  Aethelred had 4 sons and he sent 2 to Hungary for safety and the other two to Normandy since that is where his wife was from. That’s how Normandy gets into the act.  Canute returned to seize the throne in 1016 and ruled for 20 years.  He was also king of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway and commanded lucrative trade in the N. Sea and Baltic.  When he died in 1035 he had two sons,  Harthacnut and Harefoot, who disputed and ruled in succession--both dead by 1042. Harefoot evidently could run fast but not fast enough.

            Opportunistically, Aethelred’s 2 Norman sons returned to England before a Danish successor could be named.    The Anglo-Saxon English didn’t like either the Danes or the Normans.  Normans were once Vikings too, but quickly adapted to being French. Alfred was assassinated. Edward locked down the kingdom, but there was a dangerous rival nobleman, Godwine who had sons and ambition.  Eventually, Edward and Godwine worked out a deal whereby Edith, Godwine’s daughter married Ed. But they didn’t mate and she remained childless.  Maybe she was sterile or maybe he didn’t pick up his laundry and had to sleep on the couch.  The official story was that religious Edward had taken a vow of celibacy.  Normans were close to the church; English Saxons weren’t.  Thus Edward the Confessor became a national hero for being peaceful and supporting churches and buildings and roads.  Godwine died.  Then on his death bed, Edward reportedly gave the throne to Harold Godwineson as the only guy who could unite the English. 

            Things got hairy.  There were many claimants to the throne. Harold Hadrada, king of Norway claimed it for being a decendant of Canute and invaded Northumbria with thousands of men.  Harold held them off and killed Hadrada at the battle of Stamford Bridge.  No sooner was the battle was over and William Duke of Normandy, bastard son of a cousin, bulldog of a fighter, invaded southern England as a claimant.  Harold fast-marched his men from northern England to the southern shore, just in time to fight a battle with William.  The battle didn’t really take place at Hastings but at a town named Battle nearby. (which explains why we call such fights “battles”) Normans knights charged repeatedly but the English held the high ground.  But the Normans had 6 foot longbows which could rain long-range terror on the English and they won the day. 

            We think Willie was intent on winning allies among the Anglo-Saxon English, but he was ruthless, my-way-or-the-highway guy.  As he seized vast lands to give his 7000 followers, smaller rebellions cropped up for another ten years. Coercion, resistance, oppression followed and 1.5 million Anglo-Saxons were reduced to serfdom while 7000 Normans took control.  French became the language of the court. And instead of England becoming a Viking territory, it became linked to more-sophisticated France and Continental Europe.  Normans built wooden forts all over England to secure themselves and these turned into castles—something new for England. Willie had a massive survey done to figure out the maximum taxes he could charge (Domeday Book). He ruled autocratically, grew fat as Buddha.  At the funeral when they tried to wedge his body in a too-small crypt in the church floor, his body ruptured and caused a horrid scene. 

            The original English Anglo-Saxon language is still pretty much preserved on the Frisian Islands offshore of Netherlands and Germany and in Angleland, at the German-Danish border.  I’m no linguist, but English people who visit there say it catches you off guard-- a Germanic language that you can almost understand. French altered our English into Middle English of the 1200s-1400s. All in all, the conquest resulted in good.  England became a trading country. Laws were codified. When a Norman king, John, got ruthless, the other nobles made him sign Magna Carta [freedom of church, jury trial, equal protection under law].  John died right after he got the Pope to nullify Magna Carta, and his ten-yr. old son, Henry, was crowned.  In this power vacuum, the nobles insisted on re-instating the Magna Carta. Thus among so many faux contracts that medieval nobles made, this one stuck, the first constitution in Europe.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Stuff the news media should tell us

I suspect that a major reason the media doesn’t give oft-times vital information, is because they have such short time frames to write or speak and many lack analytical skills.  Years ago, I cashed in a few frequent flier points to sit 1st class and I sat down next to Art Linkletter, age 90 at the time.  He told me exactly this. Here’s more stuff…

1.     China was 2% of world's manufacturing in 1991 but is 19% today. 1/5 of US middleclass job loss is due to this. Workers are far less willing to move today (loss of home value) or re-educate (US stresses 4 year degrees which is huge down time to get a bachelors) Therefore, many try to get on disability, now 5% of 25-64 yr. olds. Food stamps has gone from 17M in 2000 to 48M today.

2.     2.6M die each year, most by health conditions. 98K die from medical mistakes, 100K from falls and accidents, 38K drug overdoses, 30K vehicle accidents.  There are only 700 deaths per year from gun accidents, but 13,000 from gun crime.  Cocaine usage fell by half in the last 10 years but heroin has gone up 80%. Marijuana abuse in Colorado has increased by 25% among the elderly since they passed legalization.

3.     It’s the federal gov’t people are fed up with.  47% of voters this fall thought Fed Gov’t is too powerful; 61% think states should be able to opt out of fed mandates and programs if fed doesn’t pay for them. Only 26% want federal funding of elections.

4.     Since 70s, land temperature readings have gone 1.5 degrees higher, but 25degrees higher since 15,000 BC. At 10,800 BC was a -15 degree re-cooling called Younger Dryas that lasted 1300 years, probably due to changed ocean circulation. Then two Sahara warmings @ 4400BC and 2200BC each lasting 150  years. (disputed causes) A  medieval warming 850-1300AD by 5 degrees, then a Little Ice Age (-8 degrees) 1309-1850 AD caused by lower solar output—known from sunspot occurance) Interglacial periods last 12,000-28,000 years. 39% of climatologists recently said they were convinced of manmade warming.

5.     In 1850, 80% of black children slaves lived with BOTH parents and this continued to 1950.  14% out-of-wedlock rate of 1950 has gone to 70% today. 7000 of 13,000 murders are committed by Af-Am who are 13% population. Half of 12th graders function at 6th grade. Teen unemployment was LESS than for whites in 1950s but is now 47%.  Black kids need Dads!  Take an unguided one under your wing, guys!

6.     Oklahoma Democrat vs. R’s in 1976 was 78% to 22% (don’t have statistics on Indies). 2016, 40 years later it is 41.5% to 45.5% in favor of R’s.  The use of marketing surveys with smart phone techniques is having a big impact on big elections—people reminding like-minded people to vote—Obama technique pioneered in 2008. Media doesn’t want you to know this. It circumvents them.

7.     Single mom, two kids (SM2K) can get assistance from TANF,WIC, Food stamps, Sect. 8 housing, and Medicaid, plus other state programs. If you make nothing $1500 a month aid is typical even in MS and AR when state is tightfisted. Earned Income Tax Credit declines as you make more than $9600 and you lose TANF.  At about 23K you lose food stamps and housing asst. Bottom line, most, but not all SM2Ks make $1500-$2000 per month no matter how poor they are.

8.     7% of men are molested sexually as kids.  46% of gay males were; 22% of gay women. Prison surveys show 86% of child molesters are gay/bi. 1.6% of population is gay; 0.7% bi—same as it has been for the last century.

9.     Save up.  30% of seniors >55 have no savings and 26% have less than $50K (9 months in nursing home).  ¼ living on retirement SS have only that. (SS retirement avg benefit is $1600/month)

10.  Racism is rare. In 1950 20% thought interracial marriage was okay.  Today it’s 90%.  Of the 10% who don’t, 2/3 cited no personal dislike but hardship on children or the couple.  That fits with 12 studies of Caucasian Americans over the last 20 years thought to be reputable—true racists are <3 3="" nbsp="" o:p="" of="" population.="" total.="">

Well, enough!  Don’t get me going on Obamacare, Islam, Taxation or Energy.  I can’t shut up.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Trump's Populism

Trump’s a populist, they say.  But I see him as a somewhat kindred soul.  I was once diagnosed as a high IQ kid, but how does that help you feed the cows?  Trump spent his childhood hanging around sheetrock hangers, despite an IQ of 140 and being the top student at NY Military Academy. But when you can use words like parsimonious and surfeit, you get accepted by the elites as one of them.  Whereupon, it can be observed that credentialed elites have engaged in a concerted revolt against traditional American values of patriotism and religion.  “The rich,” F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, “are different than us.” That is, behavior that would destroy a middle class person—drunkenness, infidelity, drug use, crime—is just a small problem for elites who can fix it with a tony rehab clinic or a sharp lawyer.  True, Trump has had his divorces and lives palatially.  But there's something different about him.

Coastal and urban, the elites choose to hang around cities, by definition, the centers of wealth.  These are the leaders of the Democrats who remind one of  Europe’s nobilesse oblige aristocracy but with a modern technocratic twist. They have bought friends among the poor by supplying welfare dependency. And where the European princes wanted to save their heads from the guillotine, the Dem elite wants to be permanently elected and in power.  Thus American politics is divided along cultural lines according to the answer to Obama’s  “who we are”.  Dem cosmopolitans say America is defined by multiculturalism and diversity.  The rest of us say it is family, flag, rights and property, and faith. And the unique American Constitution that makes us the Exception-to-the-rule in nations.

And boy, did the Democrats lose!  They lost in 2010 and thereafter—1200 local seats, 17 governorships, 13 Senate seats, 63 House seats, and finally the Presidency.  

The ordinary folks have risen up against the elites not only because the elites hog all the best jobs, but because they can’t hide their eye-rolling disdain for the mundane middle people.  This has been on display nightly in the Main Stream Media elite commentators.  By 2106, the revolt needed a President.  Every now and then a politician comes along who understands the family and faith people.  Trump, who likes wearing ball caps, went about the campaign, according to Kellyanne Conway, stopping to talk to the waitresses, doormen and security guys while the people in suits and ties waited for him.  We’ve seen pols like this before.  Reagan took his issues from the people “on the mashed potato circuit” where he mixed and spoke in small towns.  Washington was at home on his farm and in his brewery shoveling grain with the slaves he later manumitted.  TR signed up a battalion of cowboys and former friends from the Dakotas called the Rough Riders to fight in the war.  The key seems to be, not the humility of a candidate’s upbringing (like Jonathan Edwards) but of who they like to call friends in adulthood. Every now and again, it takes a populist businessman to reorganize the arrogant bureaucracy, tame the big shot legislators, and bring America back to the values that created it. Welcome home again, America.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Real Dust Bowl

From 1931 through 1938 the rainfall of the Great Plains fell by half.  In Oklahoma’s panhandle annual rainfall averages 18 inches but was 8 inches in this period.  Since 15 inches will induce desertification, the land struggled to sustain groundcover.  No one to this day has explained this enormous drought.  But a lot of people wrote about it.  People left the area known as the Dust Bowl, NE New Mexico to SW Kansas in droves abandoning land which only blew more dust.  “Okies” went to California and settled in the San Joaquin valley by the thousands as pitiful refugees.  Only after the federal government saved the day with made work jobs and assistance, conservation practices, and market controls, did the fool Okies survive.  Steinbeck’s book “Grapes of Wrath” is taken as gospel around the country.

But governors from Texas to Kansas protested Steinbeck’s sob story.  First of all, it is a myth that people left in droves.  Meade Co. KS , the heart of the dust bowl, actually gained population in the 1930s. Unemployment in OK was 22.5%, a few percent lower than the national average.  Remember there was a severe recession going on! We know from postal records that 445,000 people left Oklahoma during the decade (gorss, not net).  About half went to the Pacific Northwest where big dam projects were in the works and many of these Oklahomans were skilled welders.  60,000 went to CA and only 1/3 of these settled in the Great Valley.  Yet curiously, people in CA swear that most all the newcomers in the 30’s were “Okies”.  The reason for the myth is that AR had 48% and MS had 52% unemployment at this time.  The reason is that FDR’s Ag program, AAA, paid farmers to leave land idle. So the land barons took their checks and told most of the sharecroppers to hit the road, which they did to the San Joaquin Valley.  They had a similar accent to the Okies who were well known in the Bakersfield area in the oil industry.  So the label stuck. There were actually two other areas from which people migrated.  Western Dakotas and Montana had an equally horrid drought and many of these farmers went bankrupt and disprersed throughout the northern states.  Afro-Americans in the South, forced out as sharecroppers went to northern cities and settled in ghettos.

Just to serve the narrative of victimhood, Steinbeck has his characters beaten and taken advantage of by the CA landowners and farmers.  Naturally his Okies threatened to strike and get violent.  But the true story of labor unrest was from communist leaders of Mexican union workers who worked the fields.  State troopers had to put down the riots. In actual fact about 40,000 Oklahomans resettled in the Los Angeles area.  Their skills as horsemen and with livestock made them valuable in the movie industry which lived of horse operas.  And there were many others who found other jobs.

Nor did the Dust Bowl drive people off the land.  About half the farmland was farmed by seasonal farmers who came to plow and plant wheat, then returned to harvest.  Many lived in Denver or a farm in the east.  When fields began to blow, they were absentee to manage the dry earth.  It was well-known by many farmers in the area that strip plowing stops the dust from growing into a storm, but they were powerless to dictate to their neighbors.  Also many were well aware of the cause.  Farmers the world over love to fall plow.  Old Man Winter freezes and thaws and breaks up clods until by spring you have perfect texture like a flower bed. Trouble is, the climate of the panhandle freezes and thaws almost every day and night and the land breaks into dust.  Soils there are particularly friable and prone to blow. Cover crops, fallowing, listing, strip farming were not the invention of the federal government, but of farmers of the area. And remember, these were the days when farmers were virtually self-sufficient. I interviewed one 90-year old woman who said they didn’t raise any field crops but always had a garden.  They took gutters off the house and pumped well water into an irrigation system served by the gutters.

So if the farmers were scraping by, who wasn’t?  It was the cities where workers lost jobs and formed bread lines, wrote down-in-the-mouth novels like Studs Terkel did.  Like angry Woodie Guthrie sang.  And the armchair theorists and philosophers who were rich enough to still have a Packard, thought Steinbeck and Hoover/FDR progressivism must be right.  In fact, FDR is now credited with furthering the Depression with NHRA and dozens of foolish government programs which sucked funds out of the private sector.  Thus USA had a 12 year Depression while other countries didn’t.  In 1934, unemployment reached 25% nationwide.  In 1936 FDR proposed the Shelterbelt system.  His plan, conceived by himself and ignoring the warnings of botanists, was to plant a 100 mile wide strip of forest from ND to TX.  99% of the millions of trees planted died the first year. They build Hoover and Grand Coulee dams which will be filled with silt in another 75 years—the Colorado River carries ¾ of the sediment of North America. And at one point, the progressives wanted to force at gunpoint, all people to leave western KS to NE NM to the TX panhandle to leave and the federal government would make it into a National Park.  I think the 5 Civilzed tribes of OK thought, “We’ve heard this jive before.”             In the end, the absentee farmers blew out, Many people who left left for respiratory health reasons, the kids of the Depression who were so resourceful in the face of Dust became leaders in the fight against Axis powers, stunning the Nazis who believed the hang dog stories about pitiful Americans who were divided racially and surely wouldn’t fight together.  And the rains came back.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Trumponomics and side effects

International economists are scared stupid over Trump.  In some ways correctly, in some they are blind to the Obamabull we have had the last 8 years which has killed growth.  That’s what they have at home--low growth, much social welfare.

            Yet they rightfully raise many pitfalls.  Trump’s plan is lower taxes, cut regulations, draw corporate money home by less business taxes, protect US manufacturing while reworking trade to our advantage.  Much of this will work, though the protectionism is controversial and if overdone, will cripple US trade.  My hope is that he’ll leave the trade stuff until later.  US growth is suffering from Obama’s over-regulation.  Everything from haze( humidity and dust) in the atmosphere being declared a pollutant, to puddles being called navigable waters, to Obamacare is killing business and raising the prices of what we buy.  Highest corporate taxes in the world and being virtually the only country which tries to reach out and grab taxes of Americans overseas, makes companies flee to other shores and try to re-incorporate in foreign countries.  High personal taxes sap small biz growth which is the main creator of new jobs. 

All this is Reaganesque, and exactly what the internationals fear.  For a strong US economy means growth means higher interest rates.  This draws foreign capital, especially when somebody overseas fears their home politics or markets.  Foreigners with dollar denominated loans get killed when US interest rises and the dollar goes up to boot.  In 1992 this caused a debt crisis among foreign governments who had borrowed in the US to support their deficit spending habits.  It badly hurt Slovenia and places as close as Mexico. The ensuing recession (a lot of it was foreigners defaulting to US banks) spread but was mild in USA.  Bush and Congress intervened to help Latin America.  If this kind of thing develops again, look for foreign governments to invoke capital controls.  That will make our borrowing costs go higher still. Then if interest doubles or triples, federal debt service on all that $20T Obama ran up, will crowd out other spending in the budget. 

Secondly, a high dollar with good US growth means imports get cheaper and our trade deficit gets larger.  But Trump can’t just slap on tariffs the way we could do in the olden days.  Supply chains are sprawled out all over the globe.  An American made car has 75-90% of its parts made elsewhere. Protectionist tariffs mean killed growth in most industries. A battle over exchange rates with China could prove very harmful to the US.  All this is to say the growth might be shorted out, economic instability in some sector (something gets overbought, then crashes) arises and we get recession.

Thirdly, the low tax, low regs boost will likely result in some really wealthy people who play the situation well.  This inequality will just stoke the heck out of the demagoging Democrats.  The key to overcoming this toxic politics is to have more people finding more jobs and better pay overall, new folks re-entering the job market, etc.  That’s what Reagan did in the 80’s and it made the Dems look like crybabies balling about how everybody was making money but them. 

Still, none of this will be easy, especially when you think about how slow the recovery will be.  Businesses won’t instantly close foreign plants and move back to USA.  Businesses will still worry and hedge their bets about future Obamas coming to re-regulate.  Banks will still be nervous about their loans. And Trump wants a big spending binge by Congress for infrastructure and stimulus.  At best, it will stimulate.  At worst, government gives pork that does little to spur growth to friends and supporters. And then protectionism may cause all sorts of problems.  If I were Trump I would go easy on the protectionism and stimulus.

The internationals are worried because they invest all over the world and our spark of growth could light bonfires all over the globe. British (and other) bankers will be holding lots of foreign debt that may default over a high dollar.  If US manufacturing grows and plants in Nigeria or Egypt close, look for revolts, civil wars and jihadism to spring up all over.  Then what?  Let Russia and China take advantage and gobble up territory? Let an ISIS-like movement go wild? We’ll gladly take the pill, but watch out for side effects.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Paris burning, Trump in church

Remember Paris Hilton?  She was 'so in' as long as she was drunk and out of her wits, doing homemade porn and partying without end.  Then they took the heiress to jail and she announced that she had cried all night and read the Bible and was going to change her ways.  The media dropped her like a hot potato, never to be heard from again.  Overnight, Paris burned. And now it turns out she has voted for Trump!  “Could it be—“ I’m voicing this like they always ask on those cable TV specials about space aliens: Could it be that they influenced Einstein????—“that Paris grew up and realized what she had to lose?” Like a fortune?  Like her soul? Like her sanity?

Lewinsky too.  She voted Trump.  Kanye West woulda if he hadda.  Alas poor Hillary, I knew thee well. She underperformed among women, Afro-Americans, and young people, but she did really well among pollsters.  Well, yeah, and she had trouble with Wikileaks, but doctors say this is common if you are 69 years old.  Trump won. The Cubs won.  Hell hasn’t frozen over but it’s 36 degrees.  Obama chastised Hillary saying she didn’t go to enough fish fries and county fairs.  He did.  Wow! I agree for once with Obama! But then Miss Shirley asked rhetorically, “Did Hillary have the stamina?”  Excellent question. 

Take consolation, Democrats.  This is the first time a billionaire has been asked to move into federal project housing formerly inhabited by a black family at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  And Hillary is going to build a big, beautiful wall between her Foundation and the FBI.  Mexico has already capitulated.  They read that stuff about her and called up Washington and agreed to build a wall and pay for it no matter who won.

So now we have moved on.  “If you like your legacy, Barack, you can keep it.” The Clinton Family Foundation has changed its name to Clinton Legal Defense Fund.  And some young kids in many cities, who didn’t bother to vote, are trying to protest and change the election results.  Good luck with that. “Hey, let’s burn down some cities run by liberals for years.  That’ll teach people not to vote for Trump!”  And Trump is picking Cabinet appointees which Chuckie Schumer is going to oppose and filibuster.  Um, Chuck, you guys changed the Senate rules, remember?  There can’t be any filibusters of appointees.  Straight up or down vote and 51 wins it.  Guess who has 51 now?  Don’t you remember you and that Harry Reid changed this? 

I’ll say this, with so many things coming back in style these days, I can’t wait for intelligence and morality.  Plus I heard the two scariest Halloween costumes this year, an IRS agent and the kid who showed up at Clinton’s headquarters dressed as a lie detector. Trump and Pence went to church today together. When people in my Sunday School class today started saying things about voting for Trump, and everyone seemed to have voted for him, Pastor asked if he was a perfect person then.  Everyone laughed heartily.  So if Trump went to church, he is in the right place, just like all the rest of us.  Maybe we got the boat upright this time.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Electoral College

They used to teach this in school but evidently don’t anymore because so many think we’d be better with Popular Vote determining Presidential winners.  The Founders had to have all the states behind their effort to write a constitution.  You can’t very well form a country out of 7 of the 13 colonies.  In this urgency they wrote a constitution that both recognizes popular vote for Representatives and state vote for Senators.  And they decided against popular vote for Presidents.  Instead they constructed an Electoral College as a special convention numbering as the sum of Reps and Senators from each state.  State popular vote gets the electors.  Why this method?

Simple.  They didn’t want the country ruled from one corner or one area of large population.  The President has to be President of all the people.  We can’t have a situation where the guy elected decides the people in the rest of the nation are nobodies, just flyover country—you guys in Dakota can vote if you wish but your vote doesn’t much count.  If USA were a popular vote Presidency, there is no reason to campaign in Utah or Kentucky.  Instead, all campaigns would be for the 15 large metro areas that professional sports calls “Large Markets”.  Win a big majority in those and you win it all.  If there were two candidates with close popular vote, like Trump and Clinton, they wanted the person whose colors covered the map most.  Take a look at this last election.  Though Hillary may have won the popular vote by 2,000,000, she has no states between the coasts except for NM, CO, MN, and IL.  Such a regional President would lack the ability to unite the country, the Founders reasoned. You have to win a majority of the Electoral College votes.

That majority of the College also means the political parties must be widely appealing.  In Europe they have parties of strict doctrine—socialists, communists, greens, farmers, labor—and nobody wins more than 27% of the vote among 8 parties running. But in USA, in order to rule, you must have a party that appeals broadly to many people from wide areas of the country.  That causes constant turmoil in our parties with conservatives or moderates or progressives vying for accendancy, but  we work it out.  In the rest of the world, parties are strict in belief and don’t try many new ideas. Parties are like tribes of fierce loyalty.  No independent voters, like in USA.

The Electors are not dullards. They are real people.  In case the President-Elect dies or turns into something really evil, they are free to vote their conscience. There has to be a transition time between the Presidencies if the new guy is to get organized.  If not, then we have to have a Parliamentary system like United Kingdom of Great Britain with cabinets and programs already in place. That sudden change has not made for peaceful transitions in many European countries.  Americans like to think of ourselves as one people, not warring factions vying to get the upper hand.

European democracies have also taught another lesson on why we are wise to have Electors.  If popular vote rules and nobody gets a majority—such as this last election, what do you do?  Do you allow the 35% guy to take office?  The other 65% will have no respect and the nation will effectively be leaderless like Poland in the face of Nazis attack.  Or do you make the further demand that any government formed must have the majority of votes?  In that case Trump or Hillary would be in negotiations to get Gary Johnson to form a coalition government—thus push vote total over 50%.  Coalition governments have a history of mundane gridlock to disastrous in Europe.  When Hindenburg needed a partner in 1933 he chose Hitler who had 14% of the vote.  Hindenburg died, Hitler diabolically burned down the Reichstag (legislature building) with all the opposition party members in attendance, decried the tragedy but emplaced his Nazis in power and declared martial law.  Coalition governments are how you get a 14% guy in power by trick or brute force.  

So add it up.  Presidents with wide appeal, big-tent parties, campaigns spread out over the land, transition time to govern, national unity and strong leaders/no coalition governments. This is why America is exceptional—an exception to the rule in governments—and darn well worth it.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Solutions for Education

What follows are some thoughts on education and why it continues to yield lesser results by Charles Murray, sociologist and expert on IQ and testing.

            If you test people for different abilities, you will find one has musical talent; another, athletic; another, interpersonal skills.  And none of these are related.  But there are 3 common abilities --verbal, mathematical and spatial reasoning skills—that correlate.  Doing well in one implies highly likely to be above average in the others. Together, we could call these the Academic Abilities.  And this is the source of IQ measurements.  Students with high IQs succeed in school.  This talent is fairly fixed among individuals. 

            Almost everyone knows what it is like to be poor at some aptitude.  You were the last kid chosen in sports.  You are tone deaf and can’t see the poetry in music.  And kids who aren’t chosen by the teacher for an answer, soon realize their lack of academic talent.  It’s demoralizing because “smarts” has a lot to do with not only status but credentials for success later in life.

            If you think schools just do a bad job when students don’t score well, talk to teachers who have struggled with lower academic ability students.  Progress is slow. Concepts won’t be remembered the next day. Now nobody would insist that we can make a klutz into a super athlete, or a shy kid an extrovert. Only in our public schools do we romantically insist that we can make low academic ability students into geniuses.  It simply isn’t true. And this is the problem with No Child Left Behind.

            We should define what is meant by verbal/math/spatial reasoning.  Here’s a problem from an 8th grade achievement test.  “If a company had 90 workers last year and this year they have 10% more, how many workers does the company have?” If you say 99 congratulations. 2/3 of 8th graders can’t answer this.  Note this tests reasoning ingenuity.  It has been discovered that 90% of students can identify last year’s 90 workers; a large portion can calculate 10% (= 9).  But the final step of adding the two together is what stumps so many.  Now we could “teach the test” by teaching problems of this type, but there are thousands of other reasoning questions, so the overall score is little changed. Bottom line, a large majority of students can memorize a large amount of material. But ingenuity is rarer.

What then separates schools with good scores vs. those with poor ones?  Excellent question.  It was first investigated in the Coleman Report of the 1950s, to investigate differences in academic achievements of rich kids and poor. Everybody in Congress, who sanctioned the study, had theories.  Credentials of teachers, curriculum, facilities, money spent per student or per teacher—none were found to correlat with achievement.  Family background was far and away the most important factor in school success. Subsequent studies of adoptions proved that IQ is partly due to environment.  If you live in a upper middle class neighborhood, have parents greatly interested in your education and spend time with your learning, you’ll have higher academic achievement. Subsequently attempts to increase ability in students from poor backgrounds in programs such as Head Start have been spectacularly unsuccessful.  (Spending per student in Head Start is 3 times that of an elementary common ed, yet 2 years hence, has no measureable improvement in student scores! It’s little more than day-care for the poor.) Yet we also know there are truly bad public schools with low achievement.  These have violent classrooms, nonexistent standards, incompetent teachers and competent ones who have given up. 

We could start forming conclusions here, but let’s talk college first.  Ever since the 1920s colleges have said that to comfortably do the coursework, you need an IQ of 115 (upper 16%, SAT 1180).  110 can struggle and get a degree.  Even 105 can achieve it by targeting easy courses and majors.  About 50% of high school graduates try college.  With diluted courses, this now yields 35% graduation rate. (It was 25% in the 60s) But that means that 2/3 of students join the workforce soon after high school.  Here’s the weird thing.  High School counselors promote college to 90% of students.  Meanwhile the liberal arts education of colleges—teaching a wide body of general learning--has atrophied.  Most public schools no longer teach the lesser version of this “core knowledge” of our culture.  Why teach this?  You need a core knowledge of things like Huck Finn, Wall Street, smoke-filled room politics, Minutemen, Mount Everest and Mecca, to be able to function as a knowledgeable citizen.  This is core knowledge of our culture which was taught prior to the 1980s. Public schools avoid much of this because it has controversy.

Now let’s talk education solutions based on these findings.  First, nearly all students have aptitude at memorization especially in lower grades. Public schools need to return to teaching core knowledge.  Add ethics to this and demonstrate it by providing an environment that is safe, orderly and respectful.  Everyone is entitled to a place where they can learn all they dare to learn and be respected.  If you’re not a Mensa it doesn’t mean that you can’t become a truly good person.  Teaching the forgotten half how to make a living is also in order.  “If you like to operate machinery, do you realize you can make a lot more being a crane operator than a pizza delivery man? Show up every day, work hard, get along with everyone.” Career tech has been an unvarnished success.  It should be further supported.  Sending the message to young people that they should go to college no matter what (Ahem, politicians and guidance counselors) is a bad message.   On the other hand, with gifted students we should encourage them to go as far and fast as possible, letting them find limits in ability. Helicopter parenting and self-esteem teaching (possessing a big opinion of oneself) techniques are ruining students.   Studies show that kids avoid doing anything of risk where they might crash and burn when they get constant accolades.  Even the best need to crash and burn a few times (learn limits) to instill humility.  Leaders, geniuses who aren’t humble, who don’t sympathize with ordinary folks, are tyrants in behavior.  Another area of lack in public education is verbal rigor.  USA’s verbal reasoning skills have been on a downward trend because we have come to accept just about any form of verbal expression.

Finally, expand choice. When people talk about “common sense” they mean a practical wisdom (born from cultural knowledge) that applies logic in an appropriate manner—rightly assessing the consequences of a course of action.  This is what comprises the success of private schools, largely through the template of the paragraph above.  They don’t make IQs go from 100 to 140.  They make more functional citizens and impart Christian faith.  They teach history, which is the way we develop vicarious experience. They teach core knowledge, recognizing that certain issues are so fundamental to the human condition that people must think about them. 

Personal note: I think Murray has come pretty close to the solutions.  I had the privilege of attending a parochial high school that was like the Harvard of high schools.  University physics major was fun and breezy after St. John’s Academy. They performed, on Turbo, the things Murray advises for the gifted half of students. My wife taught first grade at a local parochial school.  She had problem students she took under wing after school.  Big strong carpenters and small engine repairmen still happily holler greetings at her at Walmart to this day. I remember them when they were 3 feet tall.  This is how people should turn out.

None of this is to say we shouldn't pay teachers fairly or support school building projects.  But the real keys are letting teachers be free to teach, good class environments, and having parents who take an interest in the child's education.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Understanding polls

This follows a Karl Rove book of several years ago and Catherine Shaw’s Campaign Manager. She is a Democrat.  The first thing to realize in polling is that not everybody votes.  240 million adults over age 18, 187M registered, but only 126.46M voted in 2012 election.  (75% of adults are registered. 65% of Registered vote in typical Pres. election.) The second thing you need to know is that only about 1/3 of the people asked to respond in a poll do so.  Thus, the task of making an accurate data base is difficult.  If Hispanics represent 14% of population but vote 8% of the time, and your poll of 1000 voters had 7% Hispanics, do you weight them by doubling or do you multiply their influence by 1.14? Af-Ams typically vote at 12% of the total vote, but represent 13% of the population.  However, in the Obama years, they voted heavily representing 14% of the total vote.   And do you weight it according to minorities or age or something else?  Seniors vote heavily and millenials vote sporadically. Jews are just 2% of the population but vote at 3% of the total.  Altogether, there is a huge guessing game of weighting the groups and putting in fudge factors to reflect participation. 

You are excused if you are thinking at this point that polls mean nothing. Gallup has dropped out of the Presidential polling, but for none of the above reasons.  It was once easier because the pollsters could get a copy of county voting records.  Voters are listed by party, address, and number of times they have voted.  So if a phone call to an address was picked up and the voter identified themselves, the pollster could assess likelihood of voting.  “Mrs. Jones voted  twice out of the last 4 general elections so she has a probability of showing up this time of ½.”  Cell phones, disposable phones, unlisted numbers have shredded this scheme.  On-the-street interviews are good, but people don’t have time, answer (in public) according to what they think the pollster wants to hear and have very low response rates.  Internet polls have no controls for partisans who do multiple votes.  All of this is chancy science.

Poll results are often all over the map in variation.  Real clear politics takes an average of recent polls to assess a race.  But even if they get more accuracy, they don’t tell you about a very important fact.  When an incumbent is below 47%, even if he’s ahead, he is probably in trouble.  Rove summed this up by studying outcomes versus final polls taken.  If an incumbent polls 48% he has a better than 50% probability of winning.  If it is 43%, this shrinks to less than 10%.  The reason for this is that when people answer a poll and give a well-known incumbent, say, 46%, this means that 54% are looking for “other alternatives.”  Typically the number of undecideds will go 60-85% for the challenger.  So as I write this, Senator Burr of NC and Sen. Ayotte of NH lead their races by a percentage point.  But with 45 and 46% respectively, they are less than half probable of winning. I’ll give you a self-depreciating example of this.  When Steve ran for the House in 2010, the State Republican Party did a 100 person phone poll of our district.  No demographic corrections were done.  They found he was behind 39 to 43%.  Steve thought he had lost and I would have agreed if he’d have shared this with me.  But the state party rejoiced—he had a chance!—and soon he was talking to some big donors for direct mail funds.  It turned out he won by 53-47%.  That is, of the 18 points undecideds (100-39-47=18), he won 14 of them.  (Golly, we were so uneducated about political science when we won that first race!  We didn’t know that the probability of beating a 3rd term House member was less than 1%.  And Luttrell had won with 60% of the vote in 2008!)

They do exit polls on many things.  One question is “how far in advance did you decide to vote for the guy you did?”  Answers vary from “I decided 40 years ago, I’d never vote for another Democrat!” to, “Never heard of him. I didn’t know who I was voting for when I checked his name.” Results are consistent however.  The number of people who decide within the final two weeks of an election is usually 1 or 2%.  Almost everyone has their minds made up two weeks out.  But Television never says this!  Indeed, they broadcast a myth about polls changing radically the last week.  Why? They get advertizing money from campaigns wanting to convince that last tiny group of undecideds.  And campaign season is like the Christmas season for broadcasters.  They make big bucks.  And they spread a myth of the Independent as a careful standoffish voter who can’t decide.  This is only true of about 1 out of 5 Indies.  Indies come in a lot of flavors.  Some are hidden partisans who just don’t want to get in an argument with their dad or wife by joining the other party. So they play coy.  As an Independent they can “constructively” criticize dad’s party.  Or they are at odds with both parties—fiscally conservative but socially liberal, or have some single issue that neither party addresses.  Independents vote only half as often as partisans.

The pollsters and TV guys play a game with viewers, claiming that “polls are tightening in the last week!”  More likely, the pollster knows that his results versus outcome will be measured closely and decide his future business.  He is trying his best to weight for “likely voters” (previous polls were ‘registered voters’ or ‘general public’) and get an accurate poll.  Previous polling done in earlier months for a new organization are often just to feed their talking heads.  Pollsters give the sponsors polls that reflect the sponsors point of view.  They tell them what they want to hear. Changes in polls can then be cited by the news organization for reason for the candidates to spend more money in last minute advertizing. 

And then pollster just sometimes blow it.  Brexit was supposed to have Remain win by 5%.  They lost by 5%.  Reagan was supposed to lose to Carter by 5-10% and won by 12%.  In both cases, enthusiasm was sky high for the eventual winner compared to the loser.  As mentioned, Romney lost because his base didn’t turn out.  That affected the weighting factors.  JFK had huge Catholic turnout which swamped anti-Catholic turnout, but he still wouldn’t have won had he not carried Illinois which was determined by dead people voting in Chicago.  Gore won the popular vote but it was not just FL that killed him with narrow loss.  He narrowly lost his home state of TN—which would have won the election for him.  Botton line: It’s the election that counts.